Russian-Owned Phillips Will Donate the Full Net Proceeds From Its London Sale—$7.7 Million—to the Ukrainian Red Cross Society
Phillips announced the Red Cross partnership the morning of the sale.
Phillips, which announced this morning, March 3, that it would donate the full net proceeds of its 20th-century and contemporary art evening auction in London to the Ukrainian Red Cross Society, has raised £5.8 million ($7.7 million) for the organization.
Prior to the event, the auction house estimated that the sale’s 41 lots would altogether bring in an estimated £24.5 million to £35.4 million ($32.5 million to $47 million). Notably, four lots were pulled from the lineup just before the start of the sale, and one more work was removed after the event began.
“They did not elicit the interest we anticipated, and we decided to withdraw the lots accordingly,” a Phillips representative said. (A full auction report will be published this evening by Artnet News.)
“The Ukrainian Red Cross Society is doing incredible work to support and protect people in the region, and it is our hope that the buyer’s premium and vendor’s commission from tonight’s evening sale will help this extraordinary charity as they continue their lifesaving work,” Stephen Brooks, Phillips’s CEO, said in a statement this morning.
View this post on Instagram
Calculated on a sliding scale, buyers’ premiums can be anywhere between 14.5 and 26 percent of a lot’s hammer price; sellers’ fees (or vendors’ commissions), meanwhile, vary from lot to lot, and are often based on related expenses like insurance, transport, restoration, and catalogue photography. Sellers’ fees are often waived for major clients or trophy lots.
A source close to the sale told Artnet News that Phillips promised at least one seller 50 percent of the buyer’s premium to secure their consignment, meaning that not all the fees were going to the auction house to begin with. (The $7.7 million total also pulls back the curtain on how much money Phillips would have made from the event, offering a reminder of the thin margins on which many auction houses operate.)
The decision to donate the proceeds to the Ukrainian Red Cross Society came amid pressure from some collectors to boycott Phillips, which since 2008 has been owned by the Mercury Group, a Moscow-based luxury retail company founded by Leonid Fridlyand and Leonid Strunin.
Earlier this week, a spokesperson for the auction house told Artnet News that “the owners of Phillips are not the subject of sanctions and have no connections to any individuals or institutions that may be included directly or indirectly in any sanctions list.”
The company also reiterated that it does not conduct business with anyone subject to sanctions.
On Sunday, Phillips posted a statement on its Instagram account denouncing Russia’s actions. “We at Phillips unequivocally condemn the invasion of Ukraine,” the post, quoting Brooks, said.
“Along with the rest of the art world, we have been shocked and saddened by the tragic events unfolding in the region. We call for an immediate cessation of all hostilities in the strongest possible terms.”
View this post on Instagram
Still, the statement did not satisfy everyone in the industry.
Matthew Girling, the former head of Bonhams auction house, told the Art Newspaper that collectors should avoid Phillips.
“I am glad [Brooks] has said this but at the end of the day it is just words,” Girling said hours before Phillips made its donation announcement.
“More assertive action needs to be taken to try and stop what is going on in Ukraine. Only a boycott of Phillips’s sales will get the attention of the world and the owners of Mercury to hopefully influence Putin to change his current chosen course of action.”
Girling could not be reached immediately for additional comment after Phillips announced its multimillion-dollar donation.
An attorney who advises notable collectors also voiced some concerns about the optics of doing business with the auction house this week.
“Can Phillips give us assurance about more transparency concerning their ownership?” he asked Artnet News.
“Even if everything is alright, is this right optically for me? Are buyers going to be going to a Russian-owned auction house or would I be better off putting it up for sale at Sotheby’s or Christie’s?”
Follow Artnet News on Facebook:
Want to stay ahead of the art world? Subscribe to our newsletter to get the breaking news, eye-opening interviews, and incisive critical takes that drive the conversation forward.